When the words won’t come out.jpg

When the words won’t come out

By Rachel Shepherd [email protected]

Inspired by her seven-year-old daughter Francesca, a special needs child, Algarve resident Rachel Shepherd has set up a website to promote businesses and amenities in the region that provide facilities for disabled visitors and residents. In her new monthly column, she tells of her experiences and how she copes with barriers.

Mummy, Mummy” is the sound coming from the baby monitor. I jump up, startled, it cannot possibly be… it’s the middle of the night and my little girl who cannot talk is saying “Mummy”, calling for me.

I rush into her room hardly able to believe that she has suddenly started talking, only she is fast asleep – the monitor has picked up the sound from another home nearby.

I go back to bed upset, for my little girl is eight and unable to speak but I never give up hope. Hope that one day she can say “Mummy” and chat with her friends – I know she would dearly love to be able to tell me about her day at school and to have friends to share secrets with.

As a mum, you always have hopes and dreams for your children and my hope is that after years of fighting for survival that she could eventually talk to me.

A simple dream, but one she may never achieve. Francesca has a rare genetic condition which means she may never be able to talk.

So how do we improve the world for children like Francesca who may not be able to speak or hear?

Could you imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t understand speech? It must be similar to the experience of going to a foreign country and not being able to understand or speak the language.

What would you do? You would probably start to use gestures in order to convey your message or use objects or drawings.

Makaton is used in 40 countries worldwide to help children and adults with communication difficulties. Makaton users are encouraged to use the signs, to reinforce and support the spoken word.

As a link is made between the word and sign, the signs are then dropped and the word takes over. Sometimes children are never able to speak and therefore Makaton becomes their constant tool of communication.

The UK government recently legislated that public and commercial services must provide access to important information to everyone, including sign and symbol users.

I have learnt Makaton to Level 8 and it is my hope and desire to be able to teach local businesses, schools and mums and dads basic Makaton to ease frustrations for so many children and adults with communication difficulties. Thus they are able to ask for simple things such as a ‘drink of water’ or to simply be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, to feel included in society and to be able to move forward in life without as much difficulty.

Maybe it should become part of the National Curriculum that basic signing is taught in all schools. As the world becomes more inclusive and understanding, we should learn more ways of communicating with people who are born less able, to make the world a place for ALL, no matter what your disability.

This month we visited Beverley Gibbons, the owner of Pinetrees Riding Centre in Almancil. Francesca has been going to Pinetrees to receive hippotherapy for a couple of years now and she loves every second.

Francesca becomes more alert during her horse riding lessons with her favourite pony Alinta. Her speech improves while riding as she is encouraged to use her voice to get the horse to walk on or to stop.


Francesca has become more symmetrical with better posture and is more self confident. If she wants the pony to go, she knows she has to communicate with her using her voice and legs. When Francesca gets off her pony, she walks with much more confidence.

This is due to the movement supplied through the horse’s back which stimulates the body through the pelvis to the brain. Because Francesca cannot run she gets a feeling of speed, a breeze on her face and the feeling of fun.

Children are challenged with other tasks while on the horse, such as recognising letters and pictures around the arena, this creates a fun way of learning. These lessons are good for her emotional wellbeing, she has access to the countryside which might otherwise be denied to her on her own two feet; freedom she would not otherwise have as the horse becomes her legs. 

Somewhere Special feels that all children should be encouraged and have the opportunity to the same experiences as others, to encourage them to achieve their full potential.

For these children, every day is precious. It can take longer for a child with special needs to perform simple tasks e.g. putting their shoes on.

Society needs to give these children more opportunities for learning, greater understanding and time. It is important that they feel included in society, to be able to access therapies and activities, to make friends so they feel less frustrated and more able to cope with everyday life.

We have some great new therapists, carers and babysitters just added to Somewhere Special. If you would like a listing or if you or your business would like to learn Makaton to enhance your business or your personal skills, please contact [email protected] or call 911 901 941.

Do you have a villa or apartment that you would like listed on Somewhere Special, you do not have to have wheelchair access, your villa could benefit someone’s stay by having subtitles on the TV for people with hearing problems, it could all be on a single level, have safety gates around the swimming pool, a hand rail in the bathroom, baby monitors or a liquidiser….. the list goes on. Visit www.somewherespecial.org.uk

P.S. Somewhere Special now appears in this winter’s Monarch Airlines in-flight magazine.